IN CONVERSATION WITH SEVDALIZA
Interview by Asia Lanzi
Sevdaliza is an Iranian-born and Netherlands-based independent artist, composer, singer, songwriter, director, mother, and human. With her genre-defying music and medium-defying art, described by her as ‘female free expression’ or ‘ancient futurist’, she has emerged as a trailblazing figure in the world of music and artistry, earning her a dedicated global following. Her journey is nothing short of remarkable, with a consistent commitment to pushing artistic boundaries and politically advocating for the marginalized through her work. From performing at festivals like Primavera Sound in front of 50 thousand spectators to her recent EP ‘Raving Dahlia’, created with the help of the AI-generated alter ego Dahlia, this interview explores her creative process, her journey in the music industry as a woman of color and the significance of vulnerability in her music.
How did you discover your love and passion for music and artistry? Was there a defining moment when you realized you were born to make music and decided to pursue it as a career?
About 13 or 14 years ago, I came to the realization that I had a deep and enduring connection with music and lyrics. It felt like it had always been a part of me, but I needed to uncover that inner voice urging me to pursue a career in music.
Starting your music career in your late 20s, especially as a POC woman, in a predominantly male-dominated industry can be challenging. Could you share your experiences and insights on this journey?
It’s undeniably complex to start a music career as a woman of color, I won’t sugarcoat it. I believe it’s of utmost importance for women like us to continue striving for change in these male-dominated industries. Personally, I’ve found that building alliances within the industry with individuals facing similar challenges is crucial. When you realize that you’re swimming against a persistent current, it becomes evident that, unfortunately, this current hasn’t changed significantly. So, in order to achieve success, it’s essential to find allies within the industry.
So you can support each other along the way.
Exactly, yes. The more we rise, the easier it becomes to offer support to one another.
What inspired you to create Dahlia, the first human femmenoid, for your recent EP ‘Raving Dahlia’? Can you discuss the creative process and your involvement in bringing Dahlia to life?
Dahlia served as a commentary on the profound societal pressures that women endure. I felt overwhelmed by the expectations placed upon me, which inspired me to craft her as a sort of duplicate of myself. The entire art project was founded on the idea that she could step in for me, when I’m not able to meet the myriad of standards set by both individuals and society.
Can you describe the logistical aspects of bringing Dahlia to life and your involvement in the project?
Creating Dahlia involved assembling a team with expertise in robotics and design. I sought out individuals who specialized in robotics and those who could craft her appearance. It was a small project team and I provided guidance throughout the process. I gave them specific instructions on how I wanted her to represent and look, and they began the modeling and robotics development. It was a collaborative effort.
With incredible technological advancements, how do you see the music industry changing with AI? As an artist, what is the importance of adapting and evolving in response to these changes?
I believe the music industry is currently experiencing a transformation of innovative technologies and I view these developments as highly beneficial for artists. In the past, creating music without access to a proper studio and substantial financial resources was quite challenging. However, these new technologies have significantly expanded opportunities for artists, encompassing not only musicians, but also visual artists. The traditional barriers and gatekeepers have largely faded away, allowing for creative expression with fewer resources. I find this a particularly intriguing and positive development.
Of course, it’s essential to acknowledge that technology, including AI, also presents some darker aspects and raises regulatory concerns. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that as long as we engage in meaningful conversations about the ethical dimensions of technological advancements, they can definitely be advantageous for artists.
There’s always this ongoing discussion about AI potentially taking control of various aspects of our lives. However, do you believe that through collaboration between humans and AI, many tasks can become more manageable without AI completely overshadowing the role of artists?
The notion of AI completely taking over artists is often sensationalized and can be considered more of a clickbait concept. While I do anticipate that sentient technology will undoubtedly reshape the way we live and work as humans, I think many people have misconceptions about AI. The idea of AI taking over is, in part, influenced by Hollywood’s portrayal of it in movies. People tend to imagine a future where AI becomes dominant, but they fail to recognize that AI already plays a significant role in our lives. AI is deeply integrated into our daily routines through platforms like Google and other technologies. AI also contributes to medical procedures, optimizing surgeries and enhancing diagnosis. It’s involved in facial recognition, AR face filters and our existence is already heavily controlled by the omnipresence of social media.
In essence, AI has already become an integral part of our lives. However, we still retain a voice and a measure of control over it. I believe that the key is to ensure that it is ethically and responsibly managed and not misused as a weapon against us. While I may not have all the answers to these complex issues, I do think that the idea of AI taking over is an oversimplified narrative, akin to clickbait.
How would you personally describe your musical sound and where do you draw inspiration for evolving into new musical styles and pushing boundaries in music?
I would describe my music as a genre-defying expression of free womanhood. As a female artist, it’s crucial for me to showcase my creative freedom, much like male artists do. I have a strong inclination to experiment with various styles and genres and I’ve noticed that some people have dubbed my music as ‘ancient futurist’, a label I find quite fitting. My music carries a thread of ancient wisdom passed down from my ancestors, which is reflected in my voice, musical choices and preferences in notes. However, I also embrace a futuristic and experimental dimension, where I’m driven to explore new musical realms. I don’t want to be constrained by preconceived notions or past expectations. My purpose as an artist is to break free from such constraints. For me, creating music is about having fun. I just love the process of artistic creation and writing songs, and the freedom it grants me is truly special.
It seems like your creative process is very organic and free from rigid boundaries, which is fascinating. You also often co-direct your music videos. How did you first become interested in directing and how do you come up with the visual aspects of your art?
Honestly, my foray into directing wasn’t a conscious decision. To me, visuals and music have always been intertwined. I began to visualize certain images when listening to my songs, and as I collaborated with directors, I noticed that my level of involvement exceeded the norm, both for them and for me. It’s more of an instinctual process for me. I tend to become friends with someone and from there, our creative journey begins. My music videos don’t usually originate from a formal, label-driven approach like “We need a video for this song, so let’s hire a director”. Instead, it’s often a more organic process, born from conversations that lead to creative friendships, and eventually we create something together.
Your music is often described as raw and intimate. How do you embrace vulnerability as a strength in your art? How does this vulnerability contribute to healing, both individually and within the collective consciousness?
I firmly believe that music possesses the power to heal on a collective scale. When I create music, I infuse it with my own healing journey, knowing that it has the potential to resonate with and heal others. This connection forms kind of a karmic depth that I deeply value.
The vulnerability you hear in my music is a result of the intimate nature of my creative process. I maintain a relatively small team and I’m very hands-on throughout. This closeness to the music makes it inherently vulnerable as it’s an intimate reflection of me. Nobody else works on my voice. I handle the recording and editing of my vocals personally. There aren’t numerous layers of production or a ‘pop machine’ altering my work. It’s a direct and authentic expression of my emotions and experiences. That’s why my music carries a sense of vulnerability.
What is your creative process like when it comes to writing and producing music? How do you infuse your philosophical character into your work and how does it contribute to its depth and meaning?
I genuinely live by the themes I incorporate into my music. Currently, I find myself in a phase of life where my perspective is deeply influenced by feminism. I’ve been immersing myself in literature that delves into topics like inequality and gender stereotypes. So, when I step into the studio, I carry a myriad of emotions with me. There’s rage, the frustration of being misunderstood as a woman, our female resilience and even a spiritual dimension. I take all of these aspects and pour them into my music.
My creative process is spontaneous, it’s about absorbing the world around me. It could be from a book I’ve recently read, a poem that struck me, a meaningful conversation or even the fuel of anger at injustice. I enter the studio with a blank slate and every day, I emerge with something that leaves me in awe.
As an artist, what do you see as your responsibility to use your voice for issues you believe in, such as humanism, feminism and speaking up on political matters?
As an artist, one naturally becomes a reflection of their time. I don’t believe it’s necessarily our responsibility as that generates undue pressure. Instead, it’s something that artists inherently sense and embrace. We naturally become mirrors of the times we live in, expressing our internal struggles and insights. For me, this is a logical and important aspect of being an artist. I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, it holds great significance.
You recently performed live at the festival Primavera Sound in front of 50 thousand people while singing, dancing and also DJing. What was that experience like?
This summer, I had the privilege of participating in some fantastic festivals and Primavera Sound stands out as one of my absolute favorites worldwide. I’m genuinely impressed by the way they organize and execute their festival, and their line-up always features exceptional artists. Connecting with Spanish fans was particularly special for me as I’ve felt their strong support despite not having many performances in Spain previously. This year, having the chance to perform in both Barcelona and Madrid was truly an amazing experience.
What goes into delivering a high-energy live performance? How do you maintain confidence and stage presence, and what do you love most about performing live?
Performing live is akin to preparing for professional sports. It’s a process that spans months and encompasses various facets. There’s vocal training, physical conditioning and dance rehearsals. These are all essential parts of my preparation. It’s about maintaining a healthy lifestyle to ensure fitness and stamina. You really have to be well-prepared physically. Beyond the physical aspect, there’s the musical direction and the visual direction, which involves building a captivating live show. It’s a labor-intensive endeavor.
What I find most enjoyable is that performing live has become like a playground for me. I feel an immense sense of freedom on stage, allowing me to express myself in ways I truly love. However, live performances demand a significant amount of effort and investment. Unfortunately, the music industry often doesn’t allocate enough funds for artists to fully realize their live show visions. Many touring artists, despite their external success, struggle to break even because live shows come with substantial costs. So while I love performing, from a business perspective, it’s undeniably a lot of work.
Creativity often comes with challenges like self-doubt, criticism, perfectionism and fear of failure. What strategies have proven effective for you in navigating and ultimately overcoming these obstacles?
Essentially, I have two key strategies. Firstly, I maintain a close circle of individuals who genuinely care about me beyond my career. This can include chosen family, biological family, friends and even my children. I also embrace stoicism, where I refrain from taking anything too seriously, be it external criticism or my own self-doubt. I strive for a sense of objectivity in how I approach these challenges.
I also empathize with artists facing an overwhelming amount of negative press, as we see with artists like Doja Cat recently. While some artists may seemingly handle it with playfulness, it’s not an easy situation to navigate. Sure, there can be financial gains, but money, while important, can’t entirely compensate for the toll it takes on one’s mental health. Managing one’s mental well-being becomes increasingly challenging as fame grows. It’s a difficult path to tread when the world is constantly talking about you. As an artist becomes more famous, it can become even more complicated because it often feels like they are perceived as public property, rather than real people. It’s as if some people forget that they have their own lives and emotions and they become objects for others to form opinions about.
What advice do you have for embracing authenticity, self-discovery and self-empowerment? What practices have helped you cultivate self-love and self-acceptance?
Trauma therapy. And I would strongly recommend anyone to explore various forms of therapy that resonate with them. Therapy can take many forms, whether it’s exercise, writing, journaling or traditional talk therapy. The key is to find what works for you.
As a woman of color navigating this world, we are conditioned to cultivate self-hate. Part of the process involves breaking free from this conditioning. Personally, I’ve had conversations with my agent Theo about his experiences growing up as a gay man and I’ve come to realize that many people, regardless of their background, carry this burden of self-hate. As I grew up, I began to wonder “Why do I hate myself? I don’t comprehend it. I’m not a bad person and I’m not causing harm to anyone”. This reflection is where the journey towards self-love begins. It’s an ongoing process of life as a journey.
Many of us have been conditioned to develop self-destructive tendencies and it’s crucial to confront this, look at ourselves in the mirror and ask “Why do I feel this way? Why is it that I don’t like myself? What’s happening inside me?” This journey I embarked on has been incredibly intriguing and enlightening for me and I’m still learning each day. Engaging in self-reflection and therapy has been immensely beneficial in this regard.
With the demands of the music industry, how do you maintain balance, remain grounded, prioritize self-care and overall preserve your mental, physical and spiritual well-being?
I tend to take a step back from an active social life. For me, it’s crucial to keep a small circle around me. I tend to get overwhelmed easily, so I find solace in my home. Personally, I prefer not to engage in too many social commitments, although I do recognize that it’s sometimes necessary for my profession. Nevertheless, I prioritize my mental health and ensure I’m in a good place for both myself and my family. This is how I preserve my well-being.
As a mother, what has been the most beautiful aspect of pregnancy and motherhood? What unexpected life lessons has your son taught you?
My child teaches me countless lessons every single day. I’m profoundly grateful that he chose me to be his mother and I see my role as his protector, caregiver and guide. It’s as if I serve him, helping him to become self-reliant and discover his unique soul expression. Being a mom is super cool and I genuinely feel that it’s the most wonderful thing that has ever happened in my life.
What can your fans expect from your upcoming releases in terms of music style and sound?
I think it will be highly eclectic. That’s the best way to describe it. Expect the unexpected.
Where do you see yourself a few years from now?
I hope to evolve into an even better version of myself. The specifics of that version are uncertain, but I’m confident it will surpass who I am today.
talent SEVDALIZA @sevdaliza_
photography AXEL MORIN @axelmorin_
styling JOANA DACHEVILLE @ SAINT GERMAIN AGENCY @joana_dacheville @saint_germain_agency
photography assistance PETE HAWK @petehawkphoto
styling assistance LEO ROUAULT & FLORIAN CROS @leorouault @floriangc_
dit ANTOINE BERNARD @antoine.brna
set design CAMILLE LEBOURGES @camillelebourges
hair artist ANASTASIIA TYMOSHCHUK @tymotynasty
makeup artist CATALINA SARTOR @catalinasartor_
nail artist MAGDA STACHURA @nailsbymagda.s
production FRENZY PICTURE @frenzypicture
producers CAMILLE RICHARDEAU & LÉONIE VESCOVI @camilkacao @leonie.vsc
line production MATHILDE HAMART @mathildehamart
production coordination AXELLE BADET & ZEO SENGSON @kly.visual @zeosngsn
in collaboration with CREATURES STUDIO & AGATHE PHILIPPART @creatures_studio @agathephilippart
editor TIMI LETONJA @timiletonja
interview ASIA LANZI @asia.lanzi
cover design ARTHUR ROELOFFZEN @arthurroeloffzen